Say cheese

If you live in central Indiana and you’re all about cheese — and come on, who isn’t? – you’re probably already familiar with Tulip Tree Creamery, owned and operated by local dairy king Fons Smits.

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You can find Fons’ fresh mozzarella, funky Foxglove, herby Nettle, creamy fromage frais, dreamy cultured butter and more at Indy-area farmers markets, on restaurant menus and at select gourmet retail outlets all over town. What you may not know is that Fons and company are generously sharing their knowledge through cheesemaking classes held here in Indy at the Tulip Tree production facility.

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I attended one of these sessions last winter, and was thrilled with the whole experience. Class sizes are kept small — around 12 to 15 — to allow everyone a chance to participate.

Here’s how it all went down. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a festive array of Tulip Tree cheeses and accompaniments like crackers, cherry bomb peppers, baguette slices, dates, nuts and other yummy goodies. Besides TT’s greatest hits, we got the chance to sample the new Tiger Lily tomme offering, an earthy soft cheese with a gorgeous salmon-pink rind. So, so happy to dig in and meet my fellow students while noshing on all the cheese we could eat.

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For me, the whole spread easily stood in for dinner. If you were to order a much smaller cheese platter/plate of this caliber at a local mid-to-upscale restaurant, you’d be shelling out at least $15 or $20 easily.

After filling up, we took our seats to learn about the art and science of cheesemaking. Fons himself greeted us, and then we received a short primer before donning our aprons and hairnets to give it a shot ourselves.

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Cheesemaking is not easy. There’s so much nuance and mad science in the whole process — making sure you achieve the right temperatures, stirring fast or slow enough, monitoring the curds, and a whole bunch of other technical steps along the way.

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Thank goodness our two small groups had excellent coaching, and working as teams, we were able to turn out a tasty queso blanco and stretchy balls of fresh mozzarella. And, everyone got generous samples of both to take home – bonus!!! More than I could eat within a few days, I had to give some away to the neighbors.

A few notes to keep in mind. Classes are BYOB; I brought along a nice Malbec and found my fellow students happily willing to share pours from their bottles as well. The price to attend is $50. At first blush, this may sound a little steep, but when you factor in the amount and quality of cheese you receive and the awesome hands-on experience, it’s well worth the price tag. Also, classes fill up quickly. If you want to attend one, check the web site and sign up as early as you can.

All in all, a super fun — and tasty — way to spend a few hours. I couldn’t help but think this would make a great teambuilding activity, or even an interesting, educational thing to do with kids. I’m excited to see a parent-and-child mozzarella making class on the schedule roster for later in August. My kiddo would LOVE this.

To learn more, tuliptreecreamery.com.

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